SF gay sex club Eros races to reopen in new location

San Francisco’s last gay sex club is rushing to reopen in time for Pride weekend. In doing so, he revives a historic location in the Tenderloin that once housed a bathhouse that catered to men who have sex with men.

Eros SF, the sex club for queer and trans men, is now located at 132 Turk Street. After moving from their old space on Upper Market Street in December, the owners of Eros began redeveloping and moving into their new home, where the gay Bulldog Baths had operated in the late 1970s and 1980s.

As of Wednesday, June 22, the business was still working with the city’s building inspection department to get the final approval it needed to welcome customers to the new location. Eros co-owner Ken Rowe was due to have a zoom meeting this afternoon, after the Bay Area Reporter’s press deadline, with a building inspector to review documents he resubmitted last week. last.

“The language he used was to go over the things we can do to be code compliant,” Rowe said. “The problem is that it’s a mixed-use building, while it’s been a commercial space for some time with apartments above, that puts it in a different category than what we let’s all assume,” Rowe said. “But, yes, there is movement.”

As for being able to announce its opening in the coming days ahead of Pride Sunday, Rowe told BAR it was a “slight possibility” at this stage. Customers should check the Eros website and Facebook page for updates, as Rowe will announce the opening date through them as soon as it has the green light to do so.

“I’m not extremely confident, but it could happen,” he said. “We may be open part of this weekend.”

Christine Gasparac, deputy director of DBI, told BAR on Wednesday that she had “contacted the reviewer of the plan, and he confirmed that he has a meeting scheduled with the owners this afternoon to review their permit application. There is still additional information DBI needs to ensure the project is compliant with San Francisco building codes, which they will discuss at the meeting this afternoon.”

Resuming business during Pride month would not only be “very meaningful,” Rowe said, but also a financial blessing.

“It would support our July expenses because Pride Week is always huge in terms of revenue and attendance,” said Rowe, who previously worked as a director of Eros before buying the business in 2005 with two of his colleagues at the time.

He now shares co-ownership with Loren Bruton, who for many years was the chief artist of Eros, and Douglas Hingst. Over the past eight months, the trio have had to manage moves, oversee renovations and navigate the city’s permitting process.

“It’s always something,” said Rowe, who also contracted COVID this month.

Eros is not a traditional gay bathhouse in that it does not have locked rooms. Such ventures are allowed again in San Francisco, because last year the city rolled back rules that had effectively banned bathhouses since the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-1980s. For now, however , Eros does not intend to offer rooms with doors that can be locked in its new space.

The business operates as a “day spa” with day and evening hours and not a 24-hour location, as Rowe noted in April during a hearing on other zoning changes for the city’s adult sex venues. It has a capacity capped at 49 people in the new space, which has several play areas for customers and a changing room area.

Since Eros opened in 1992, the company has worked “to exceed,” Rowe noted, any demands the city has placed on such businesses.

“We’ve been able to overcome the AIDS and STI crises, the drug crisis, and find ourselves the only commercial gay sex venue to remain in business after the COVID-mandated closures,” Rowe said, referring to the closure in 2020 of SOMA. Blow Buddies sex club.

As BAR previously reported, city leaders this spring lifted bans that prevented such establishments from opening in historic LGBTQ neighborhoods across the city. They did so at the request of District 8’s gay supervisor, Rafael Mandelman, who had led the previous campaign to allow bathhouses to operate again in the city.

Mandelman told BAR this week he would be “very disappointed” if Eros couldn’t open by Pride weekend.

While Rowe would have liked to submit the Eros paperwork to various city departments months ago, he said he was told he couldn’t do so until the latest policy changes took effect. zoning.

“I wish I could have done the paperwork while the zoning was in progress, but that logically wasn’t going to happen. The city doesn’t recognize the zoning change until it happens,” Rowe said. .

The latest zoning code update officially went into effect on June 12. It paves the way for gay bathhouses and other adult sex venues to open in the Castro, Tenderloin and most of the southern market without needing to receive planning commission approval. The watchdog must approve adult sex venues that wish to open in East SOMA, the Mission, Dogpatch and Bayview.

Board approval would also be required if an adult sex venue wanted to operate between 2 and 6 a.m. in these locations. These adult businesses, however, remain prohibited in the Chinatown business district.

Eros was waiting for the city’s building inspection department to approve his request for a change of use he made on May 13 so he could reopen in the Turk Street storefront as an adult sex venue. . A dog groomer and kennel using the name of the former gay bathhouse had operated in the space followed by an artists’ collective before Eros took over the lease.

Due to recent zoning changes, approval for new use of the storefront would have to be “a really minimal thing,” said Jacob Bintliff, a legislative aide to Mandelman who previously worked as a city planner.

“There really shouldn’t be a problem. It should be totally superficial,” Bintliff told BAR on June 15 regarding Eros’ claim.

Due to being closed but having had to pay rent since the end of last year at its new location, Eros has been crowdfunding to help cover its costs. So far he has raised nearly $6,000 of his $15,000 goal.

“We are seriously short of our June rent and need the next 2/3 of our goal. We have been 6 months without income and would prefer not to take out any more loans,” Rowe wrote in a May 15 memo on the fundraising page.

He also promised that the next update would reveal the opening date for Eros.

“We are getting closer! Zoning is changing. We have applied for our permits. Additional furniture is being removed. We have set our opening date (next update),” Rowe wrote.

According to its website, Eros allows anyone whose membership expired on December 15 to bring their membership card to the new location to receive a new free membership valid for six months.

“We hope we can survive this month,” Rowe told BAR before Eros returned to operations. “We have to be open in July.”


Eros’ new space is located at 321 Turk Street in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Monkeypox
Now, just as the sex club reopens, its owners face the added headache of a global outbreak of monkeypox, primarily among men who have sex with men. Many cases have been linked to a Pride event in the Canary Islands, a fetish festival in Belgium, and saunas in Spain and Montreal.

As of June 14, five possible cases of monkeypox have been reported in San Francisco residents, according to local public health officials. While anyone can contract monkeypox through close personal contact, health officials are urging the gay community, in particular, to be vigilant ahead of this month’s Pride events.

On his Facebook page that Tuesday, Eros had shared an advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the monkeypox outbreak which noted that “the risk of contracting monkeypox in the United States is low, but it is important to know symptoms”.

He added that “Anyone who has a rash that looks like monkeypox and has been potentially exposed to the virus should tell their healthcare provider. A monkeypox rash may initially look like pimples, blisters, or raised bumps, and by fever and chills.”

Rowe told BAR that he and his co-owners “are not really sure at this point” about the impact this latest health issue could have on their business, which has been forced to close multiple times over the past two years. due to COVID. He added that “we are not too worried”.

He noted that health officials have advised anyone old enough to have received the smallpox vaccine to be well protected against monkeypox.

“So it’s like 50+, which is a big chunk of our customer base,” Rowe said, adding that tourists also make up a big chunk of their customers. “With tourists, tourists are always a wild card, but we live in a tourist town. We’re not too worried. There’s no evidence that we’re worried about it anytime soon.”

As for seeing a traditional gay bathhouse operating again in the city, it doesn’t look like it will be opening one any time soon. Bintliff told BAR he was not aware of any permit applications for such a business in the city.

An interested bathhouse owner, Curtis Chude, had contacted Mandelman’s office and spoken with the BAR last year. He was watching the former 24-hour fitness site at 2145 Market Street between Sanchez and Church streets which closed permanently in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic closures. But it has since been leased to the Live Fit Gym Wellness Club, which is due to open this month.

“I don’t know of anyone since we passed it who has specific plans moving forward,” Bintliff said, referring to the bathhouse rezoning. “One person was interested in the 24-hour fitness space, but this new gym beat them. We’re glad the gym is coming and we’re glad this position is filled.”

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